Democracy & Human Rights | Speeches

Action against Hunger and Poverty

Meeting on World Leaders ECOSOC Chamber

United Nations, New York, USA

September 15, 2004

Action Against Hunger and Poverty

Mr Chairman,

It is a privilege for me to address this distinguished gathering on such a significant occasion as the meeting of world leaders to discuss this very important global challenge – Action against Hunger and Poverty. At the very outset I would like to pay a warm tribute to the efforts of the distinguished President Luiz Inacio da Silva, for his inspiring initiative to face this challenge and his tireless work towards galvanizing a great deal of international support.

We continue to be shocked that approximately over 800 million people are malnourished and hungry. Nearly 1.3 billion of the world’s population live on less than one dollar per day. While hunger is widespread in developing countries, about 100 million people in industrialized countries also live below the poverty line.

Mr Chairman, latest reports show that approximately 400 million people who lived on less than one dollar a day graduated to the income bracket of living on less than 2 dollars per day, increasing this group from 2.4 billion to 2.7 billion. We need to accelerate our efforts to combat poverty if we are to achieve the priority Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

It is incumbent upon governments to eradicate poverty in order to free people from hunger. Action at national level to combat extreme poverty is essential but not sufficient. Combating hunger needs collective action. It requires higher investment, development of domestic and international markets, scientific and technological development and more importantly, expansion of education and healthcare facilities for which global partnerships are essential.

Mr Chairman, providing opportunities, facilitating empowerment and enhancing socio economic, security constitute the key pillars of poverty alleviation. Expansion of infrastructure such as roads, electricity, water, housing, sanitation as well as good schools and hospitals will essentially expand opportunities available to the rural poor. These should be complemented by effective safety nets, nutrition programmes, efficient land and water management systems. We need efficient and accountable public service delivery system that removes social and institutional barriers and caters to the society regardless of status, gender and ethnicity to empower the underprivileged. Decentralization of institutional and financial mechanisms will also help. Improving resilience of the economy to external and internal shocks, including natural disasters reducing vulnerability to violence and conflict and instituting peace through negotiated settlements will benefit the poor by enabling to enhance investments and job creation.

Mr Chairman, my government believes in pro-poor growths strategy comprising of policies for income improvements and rural infrastructure development through the empowerment of the poor, including those affected by the armed conflict. We have undertaken community based solutions to provide assistance to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. The promotion of small and medium scale enterprises as a means of gainful employment for the poor was undertaken by us several years ago. The state facilitates the provision of land, infrastructure and access to credit and markets.

Sri Lanka has reached standards similar to that of a developed nation in education and health with a literacy rate of 95 percent in net primary school enrolment, gender equality as well as infant and maternal mortality rates together with 73 years life expectancy. We have already reached MDGs in the areas of education, health, and human resource development despite a low capita income of US $900 Sri Lanka ranks 99th out of 173 countries in terms of HDI.

Mr Chairman, what we in the developing world need more than financial assistance from the international community is equal opportunity for trade and access to global market. Market protection in the developed countries of primary products must be restructured as you have correctly maintained at various international fora.

The world economic order must change if we are to achieve the targets stipulated under the MDG. International cooperation in the fields of sharing knowledge in science and technology and group efforts to provide access to credit and markets to developing world is essential if we are to achieve our goals.

In Sri Lanka about 7 percent of the population live on less than one dollar per day, but we are very much concerned that the higher percentage – 45 percent of people who live on about 2 dollars per day.

Mr Chairman, your determination and commitment to battle against hunger and poverty not only in your own country, but also globally, is commendable. The World Bank has already estimated that to realize MDGs by 2015 it will need an additional 50 billion dollars per year over and above the current official development assistance of around 60 billion dollars. Such a heavy increase is in official development assistance may not be feasible in the near future. Hence, Mr Chairman, Sri Lanka fully supports your suggestion to find new resources through setting up of a fund to combat hunger. We hope that this proposal will receive support for all countries.

Mr Chairman, the technical group on Innovative Financing Mechanism has identified innovative instruments to raise much needed funds for action against hunger and poverty. Taxation on global financial transactions presumably would generate substantial amount of resources. But we need to take extra care that such taxes will not affect smooth operations of financial markets and existing financial flows to developing countries.

Taxation of arms trade to finance social-oriented projects is a very sensible move with which no one could disagree.

Finally, Mr Chairman, as I have already mentioned Sri Lanka has always advocated a solid global partnership to strengthen the capacity of the international community to enhance national efforts in the eradication of poverty and hunger. For its part, Sri Lanka remains committed to making this meeting a success and my delegation will spare no efforts to play our part effectively.
I thank you Mr Chairman.